Lese majeste and repression

7 06 2016

In this post we wish to draw attention to two recent articles discussing lese majeste and its impacts both personal and society-wide.

It has become “natural” for royalist Thais to “defend” the monarchy in recent years. Of course, royalists have always done this – the restoration of the monarchy after 1932 and more especially after WW2 was about defending the monarchy and recalibrating to again rule. The latter kind of failed, except in the ideological space, but it was royalist generals Phin Choonhavan and most especially Sarit Thanarat who forged an alliance with the palace (and Seni and Kukrit Pramoj) to make the palace-military alliance that has been so powerful and handsomely rewarded generals and the royal family.

Much of the history of this remaking and partial restoration is unknown to average Thais who have been indoctrinated in schools and universities and by the use of mass media. This is attested in an article at the Bangkok Post, by Achara Ashayagachat, where her account of lese majeste and various kingly anniversaries seems to be one of a gradual political eye-opening.

On the spike in lese majeste cases, she says: “Observers attribute the increase of cases to intense political polarisation, following the 2006 military coup and concerns over the King’s health.” This is only a partial story, for as she states, lese majeste is “more often than not, it is used — or abused — as a political tool in cleansing or taking revenge on individuals or political opponents.”

It is a tool used by the royalist elite and its military allies, and not always for political opponents in the usual sense, but in a kind of “traditional” sense as well. This is seen in the post-2014 coup list of “68 lese majeste cases relating to opinions, poems, cartoons, and comments online during the last two years, excluding the 37 fraud cases that are linked to names of the royal family.”

These “fraud” cases have been made lese majeste cases, and we assume that it excludes the two men who mysteriously died in custody.

The second story is a long account of the anti-coup poet and cyber activist Sirapop who writes as Rung Sila, apprehended on 24 June 2014 and still imprisoned without bail, charged with various “crimes,” including lese majeste. The report is of Rung Sila’s case – until now, little known. He denies all charges and affirms that he will continue to fight the charges. He is being tried in secret before a military court. It took almost two years for his case to go before that kangaroo court.

His arrest was for failing to report to the junta. Even today, still jailed, he refuses to bow before that lot: “I did not believe that the coup makers, or, if you will, the traitors, would remain in power for long and I chose to defend rights, freedoms and the constitution peacefully and nonviolently, avoiding aggression, by simply not cooperating with the traitors.”

One aspect of the story that is revealing of events we at PPT had never previously heard was of the junta’s own involvement in the interrogation of Rung Sila:

There was a major session on the final evening in military custody with 50 officials led by an admiral with the NCPO. The admiral told him that he had been constantly monitored and that there were many items that had come to the attention of military war rooms during multiple periods of unrest…”.

He was interrogated by dozens of thugs, but the involvement of “an admiral with the NCPO” – the junta – is another eye-opener. (The only admiral in the junta at the time of the coup was Admiral Narong Pipatanasai.)

Both articles deserve attention.





Two years of military dictatorship

22 05 2016

There has been quite a torrent of articles assessing the two years that have passed since the illegal seizure of power by the military junta that continues to rule Thailand. So much so, that PPT doesn’t feel the need to add to the tragic and dark story. Rather, we’ll link to a number of the recent stories that have appeared.

The Bangkok Post has had a series of lengthy articles assessing the junta and the past two years. One of them is about the treatment of political dissidents, where the Post refers to “hundreds” of arrests and cases “that reflect the …[junta’s] efforts to suppress freedom of expression.” There’s plenty more that readers can track back through recent issues.

Khaosod has an assessment of what it says were eight promises made by The Dictator when he “unveiled his policy objectives to his rubber stamp parliament shortly after it named him prime minister, his speech took nearly two hours.” It’s a mixed bag, but we regret that elections are not mentioned. That’s a big promise that was in a supposed “road map” that gets altered as often as the junta feels necessary. A second Khaosod article, this one by Pravit Rojanaphruk, advises that no one should believe the junta.

The Asia Foundation has found its voice. Back in 2006, it was supportive of the coup. This time it seems to take a different view. Here’s a snippet from the conclusion:

While speculation points to a variety of plausible scenarios, the deepest worry is that little will change whatever the referendum result. If the constitution passes, the NCPO may be in no rush to enact the extensive body of election and other “organic laws” that must be in place before an election is held. Alternative scenarios include public rejection of the charter, setting the country on an uncharted course of continued military rule, or cancellation of the referendum by the NCPO if the military leaders sense growing public unrest in the lead-up to August 7. Sadly, none of these prospective outcomes ensures Thailand’s release from the stubborn grip of authoritarianism and guided democracy – a prospect that seemingly weighs in a climate of creeping malaise and dwindling hope that observers sense among Thais across all strata of society – a mood that some observers suggest may portend unrest.

Global Risk Insights is a publication that looks at political risk news and analysis. It has turned its eye to Thailand and lists three near term risks: Yingluck Shinawatra’s show trial, the death of the king and succession and the referendum on the military’s charter.

The Southeast Asia Globe talks to some academics who are often also commentators. No one could really argue with the final statement from one of them: “Thailand is going backwards.” In a similar vein, Australia’s New Matilda looks at Thailand and Cambodia, apparently in lock-step on the authoritarian road.

AP has a useful account of “Why Junta Rules Thailand, With No End in Sight.” It observes that the “coup really was traditional ruling elite’s latest and most decisive intervention in what is now a decadelong war for political power with billionaire telecommunications tycoon-turned-politician Thaksin Shinawatra.” It concludes: “Thailand’s ruling generals have made clear they are not planning to yield control anytime soon. Initial plans to hold an election in 2015 were deferred until 2016, and are now deferred again until 2017.” And, as we know, this deferral may be extended even further.

AP has another story where they get opinions from various persons seems as somehow representative of particular interests. The one we found most revealing was from palace-connected coup supporter and wealthy businessman William Heinecke. It reflects that fact that most royalists and pretty much all of big business remain firmly behind the junta:

There certainly has been change. Bangkok if we remember correctly was almost at a standstill. No one could vote, an election couldn’t take place, traffic was blocked, protests were ongoing. So we’ve seen a return to stability. And that’s always good for business…. When you see instability on the streets, and in the mass media worldwide, it affects our business in every possible way. There’s a lack of confidence, there’s a lack of tourists, the economy was being strangled.

I think we’ve seen a return to normalized business. I think there has been significant improvement. To me, I know of no one that’s concerned about the protection of their rights — in terms of living peacefully, going about their business. Yes, if you say, ‘Do I have the right to rally in the streets?’ you may not, but to me that’s less critical than it is to make sure we can all continue with business and to make sure we can provide education for our kids…. Is it perfect? I’m sure it’s not. Is it better than it was? I think it is.

In contrast to this exceptionally wealthy capitalist and anti-democrat, Prachatai has a series of interviews with others who were outspoken in the anti-democrat movement of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Environmentalist Prasitchai Noonual joined the PDRC and opposed projects that “favoured investors but would be harmful to the local environment.” Back then on the PDRC stage he declared:  “Today, we are carrying out a significant mission to uproot the Thaksin regime…”. Now he says “he has realized that he was wrong, since the junta has favoured foreign investors to an even greater extent … allowing investors to build anywhere and ignore the surrounding communities.” Recognizing that he was a political ninny, he says: “the junta is much worse [than Thaksin-dominated governments] because people were able to stop some government projects during Thaksin’s time, but never under the junta.” Supat Hasuwannakit is a medical doctor and activist who worked with the PDRC. He says:

Two years later … people are now fed up with the junta but they don’t dare to express their anger due to the intensive suppression of free speech. This anger, however, will manifest itself in the August referendum, meaning that people show their approval or disapproval of the junta through the ballot box.  …[P]ublic assembly is how the people bargain with the state, but that is hardly possible under the junta…. Let’s hold an election now. We’re sick of the junta. At least under an elected government, we can criticize, express ideas, and negotiate. Doing such things is very difficult under the junta…. This is a big lesson for all Thai people, that we might despair of representative democracy but a coup d’état is absolutely not an option in any way.

From this, we presume Supat must never have read a book about military authoritarianism or studied the role of the military in Thailand. That’s also true of student anti-democrat Thatchapong Kaedam who seems to remain a ninny:

After observing the junta administration for two years, Thatchapong told Prachatai that he was disappointed because it has failed to deliver what it promised to the public – that it would reform the country before an election. According the draft charter, it is obvious that reform will happen after the election. Moreover, the reforms will be carried out by an unelected government and junta-appointed political bodies, not by the people or civil society.

“Back then, I always believed that a coup d’état would never happen again in this country. One had just happened in 2006 so I thought the military would not do it again. But of course, I was disappointed…”. Thatchapong added that the junta’s intimidation of ordinary people will heat up political conflict. It is, however, not a conflict between the red shirts and the yellow shirts, but rather between the people and the dictatorial regime.

Boonyuen Siritham is a former senator and appeared on the PDRC stage. Her networks have suffered under the junta, so she has an altered view: “We use to call the former PM ‘the dumb girl’ but I’m not sure whether we now have a dumber PM or not, since our lives have more suffering than during the dumb girl’s government…”. We can’t help but observe that many “activists” simply personalize politics. Big pictures and grand ideas seem to rank lower in politics for them.

In all of this it is noticeable that it is Channel NewsAsia that reminds its readers that this military junta has blood on its hands. The report is of the failure of justice for the victims of the 2010 crackdown on red shirt protesters and reminds us that the “military’s leaders also stated they would bring about reconciliation while in power.” We doubt any red shirts ever believed this. Indeed, the junta has gone out of its way to deepen the political divide by targeting red shirts and the Puea Thai Party.

And, we should not forget the academic “media.” As we noted a couple of weeks ago, the Journal of Contemporary Asia has a special issue on Thailand’s authoritarian turn. Two of the articles are for free download.





Liberal authoritarianism

25 03 2016

An aged former prime minister who served twice but was never elected seems like an unlikely source for advice on democracy. That he served a military junta and then was put in place by the king in an arguably unconstitutional move should add to considerable doubt about his credentials.

Anand

But this is the Teflon-coated patrician Anand Panyarachun, sometimes seen as one of Thailand’s “liberal” royalists. So it is that the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand decides to invite the old liberal royalist to give his views, yet again. Some journalists have tweeted and gone on social media making out that Anand is someone who must be taken seriously while posing with him in photos as if he is a celebrity.

The Straits Times refers to Anand as “Thailand’s elder statesman…. Today, he remains among a handful of people with the stature to be able to speak his mind even under a military government.”

What the article should probably have stated is that he is one of the few to be able to speak and not fear detention. Others speak their mind, but are harassed because they say things that are interpreted as critical of the junta. Anand is essentially a junta supporter. He supported both the 2006 and 2014 military-palace coups. He doesn’t say anything that is likely to get the junta steamed up.

The truth is that Anand is a royalist authoritarian who seeks to cloak his anti-democratic perspectives in a language of “transparency,” “anti-corruption,” “human rights” and a decidedly technocratic language for Western audiences is interpreted in Thailand as the code of a supporter of the anti-democrats.

Anand’s speech is reproduced at the Bangkok Post. Interestingly, the only persons cited in it are the king – ho hum – Gandhi and a rightist libertarian (rather than a liberal).

It is a Khaosod report that shows the anti-democrat authoritarian. Anand declared that “people [he means Western critics and the journalists he spoke to] should not see coups and their makers in black or white, adding that those in Thailand are different from those in Africa or Latin America.” He defended the “unique nature of [Thailand’s] military coups.”

Ignoring the military’s repeated use of war weapons against its own people, “Anand said coups in Thailand are bloodless and nonviolent…”. He went further:

They are not brutal and bloody,” Anand said of the 12 “successful” coups in the eight-decades of modern political history. “I am not proud of that, but the damage is relatively insignificant.”

We understand that he needs to dissemble in order to support the 2014 coup, but he does this by ignoring mass murder. He ignores 1976, the attempts by the military to stay in power in 1973 and 1992, and the more generalized use of deadly force against civilians, most recently in April and May 2010. This is crude elite justification of military rule and its murderous past.

FDIHe also went into liar mode when he said “the most recent coup that installed the military regime of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha in May 2014 hasn’t deterred foreign investment.” The real picture is in the graph.

If on looks at Board of Investment data, the declines following the coup are even sharper, as shown in the graphs from the Nikkei Asian Review.BOI

He defended the current junta:

At one point Anand was asked by a Singaporean journalist if the current military regime is capable of pushing for reform.

“Just because because they are a military government, it doesn’t mean they are stupid or always stupid,” he said.

Asked about democracy in Thailand, he said: “I’m not apologetic about the slow pace of the development of democracy.  I am sure I will not live to see it. I am 83.”

It is clear that the talk of human rights, rule of law, transparency and so on are not elements of a democratic Thailand but of a technocratic and authoritarian Thailand. When “liberal royalists” preach it is self-interested class warfare.

He even blames the “people” for the longevity of the military: “I think in a way that helps the present military regime to survive, because quite a number of people still give them credit for restoring peace and order.”

He does not blame his own class as the ones who cheer the military and benefit from its repressive power, again and again. He may not want a military regime for years to come, but he knows his class needs the military.





WikiLeaks, Clinton and Yingluck

24 03 2016

WikiLeaks now has a Hillary Clinton Email Archive. Its pages states:

On March 16, 2016 WikiLeaks launched a searchable archive for 30,322 emails & email attachments sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s private email server while she was Secretary of State. The 50,547 pages of documents span from 30 June 2010 to 12 August 2014. 7,570 of the documents were sent by Hillary Clinton. The emails were made available in the form of thousands of PDFs by the US State Department as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request. The final PDFs were made available on February 29, 2016.

A simple search for “Thailand” produces 73 results, several of which seem barely relevant, with Thailand simply mentioned. PPT hasn’t been through all of these cables as yet.

One that has gained some social media attention, not least via a Facebook post by Andrew MacGregor Marshall, is about Yingluck Shinawatra, the 2011 floods and a visit by Clinton. It is originally from Karen Brooks and forwarded by Kurt Campbell, and dated 16 November 2011. Some interesting bits of this cable are clipped and included below.

Yingluck Clinton

On the politics of the floods:

To keep momentum, Yingluck will need to make changes in her team. Given the poor performance of the past two months, a cabinet reshuffle is a must do. Top of the list is Agriculture Minister Theera Wongsamut, who hails from the Chart Thai Pattana party – a coalition partner but at best a fair-weather friend. Not only has Theera been inept in his handling of the crisis since Yingluck took office (water management being part of his portfolio), but he also served as Agriculture Minister in the previous Abhisit-led government. He is thus seen (correctly) as guilty of either malice or incompetence (or both) for his failure to appropriately manage water levels at the country’s two biggest dams in the months preceding the inauguration of the Yingluck government – which greatly exacerbated the current crisis.

On Yingluck and her work:

She is tired…. Very tired. I saw her last night at her house at 11pm and she told me that she is up around the clock with very little support and a cabinet team that has proven weak (her words were less diplomatic) and unable to rise to the occasion. She said she always expected the job would be hard, but that learning everything about government, while managing. the complexities of the relationship with the palace and the military, while being slammed with a major national crisis – AND doing it all with a weak team – has taken its toll. Even so, she is determined and has fire in the belly. She emphasized that she had won an absolute majority for only the second time in thai history, and that she would not let the millions of thais who supported her down. If it means not resting until her term is over, so be it. She can handle it, she said, because she believes in what she is doing. She will make some changes in her cabinet in the coming weeks once the water has been drained, and then look forward to getting the A Team back in May of next year, when the ban expires on the 111 Thai Rak Thai politicians removed from politics by the courts in 2007 after the coup.

Yingluck on reconciliation:

She made a point of saying that she is ENORMOUSLY grateful that Sec Clinton is coming today. “It’s been six long years of turmoil in this country,” she said. “I’m determined to use my mandate to bring people together and foster reconciliation, like I said in the campaign. I’m working hard to win over the military and help them see they have a real place here without interfering in politics. I’m working hard to do the same with the palace. But let’s face it: democracy here is still fragile. We need the US engaged.”

On General Prayuth Chan-ocha and not bringing down the government (just then):

Yingluck tell me she has gone out of her way to work cooperatively with Prayuth, and Prayuth seems to have come to appreciate her sincerity and hard work.

On the relationship with the palace:

The Palace, similarly, has not shown any inclination to use the crisis to bring down the government. The King has given three audiences (made public) to PM Yingluck since she took office. (In the opaque world of the Thai monarchy, this is one key tea leaf to read.) Moreover, other members of the royal family have given the PM private audiences in recent weeks (not publicly known) – including the Crown Prince and two of the princesses. Perhaps most telling, however, is the recent appointment by the government of two palace favorites, Dr. Sumet [Tantivejkul] and Dr. Veerapong [Virabongsa Ramangkura], to the new reconstruction and water management committees. Sumet, who is a long time advisor to His Majesty and runs one of his foundations, would never have accepted the appointment if the King had not explicitly blessed the move. Two others on the water committee are similarly associated with His Majesty.

To be honest, PPT had not previously seen Virabongsa mentioned as a “palace favorite.”

On Thaksin Shinawatra and amnesty or pardon:

Yingluck told me big brother remains in a dialogue with the palace described as “constructive” and expressed hope that this would yield an amicable end to the five+ year drama of his exile – either through a royal pardon or through a parliament sponsored amnesty law, with support from the palace. This is, at best, a delicate dance, and any mishandling or miscalculation on Thaksin’s part could yet trigger another cycle of political drama here.





Another 20 years of military bossiness

15 03 2016

The Dictator has log babbled about a 20-year “reform” agenda, beating the previous post-coup record established by the royal favorite Thanin Kraivixien, who set a 12-year time frame.

In the bid to keep the military in power or in a place where it can trump any elected or vaguely constitutional regime, The Dictator has returned to this 20-year “plan” which he calls “Pracha Rat,”  and developed for him by the likes of royalist conservative Prawase Wasi and multiple NGO anti-democrats who remain skeptical of people power and of the capacity of the grassroots to engage in politics. Electoral democracy scares the silk pants off middle class do-gooders and the military.

The Nation reports that General Prayuth Chan-ocha* has declared that 20 years is “essential to ensure sustainable development of the Kingdom…”. In this, “sustainable” is another genuflection to the anti-democrats and an attempt to coax them across to support for ongoing military interference and bossiness.

Prayuth stated that to sustain “Pracha Rat and its goals … there should be an emphasis on judicial assurances, the integrated participation of all sectors of society, the empowerment of state agencies, and continued public support for the national strategy.” All of this is anti-democrat code, telling them that if they do not agree to military oversight, their “reform,” fixing the judiciary, weakening elections and boosting the power of the state’s agencies, then Thaksin Shinawatra, the red shirts and the “uneducate” will be back.

He blamed “politicians” for having made people “colour-blinded and short-sighted,” conveniently forgetting that the yellow shirts – the first of the colors – developed with palace and military connivance, the support of politicians in the senate (all the unelected swill) and in the Democrat Party.

*Oddly The Nation refers to Prayuth as a “retired general.” This is a bit much, given that no general ever retires, keeping their moniker, their uniforms and their position in the hierarchy.





Worrying about more crackdowns

10 03 2016

When it comes to crackdowns on “influential people,” there are several reasons to worry.

The first is that the people doing the crackdowns are usually acting in the service of “villains” at the top of the military and police. It is well known that the police and military brass are, almost to a person, “unusually wealthy.” Their wealth is unusual because it far exceeds salaries and is composed of funds from intricate hierarchical webs that transmit ill-gotten gains to the top, with underlings taking percentages. This is why positions are often not just sold, but effectively auctioned.

Second, usually crackdowns are a way for the “villains” at the top of the military and police to sort out criminal arrangements that have come undone. At times, however, when there is political disjuncture or there have been foreign or upstart gangs taking turf or the profit rate has fallen, it is necessary to clean out those other villains who do not serve the king as loyal members of the police and military.

Anyone trust these guys?

Anyone trust these guys?

Third, cracking down on villains is popular. As was seen during Thaksin Shinawatra’s time in power, with the infamous and palace-supported War on Drugs, the public was enthusiastic about getting thugs off their backs. We suspect that this is one important consideration for the military junta is heading down this path. They want more political support for the charter referendum and/or for extending their time in power.

Fourth, “populist” crackdowns can become excuses for extrajudicial murder, as the uniformed villains settle scores and get rid of opponents. When lists are drawn up, they can becomes killing lists.

Fifth, the “dark influences” can be defined in political terms, and the military dictatorship will certainly use the “crackdown” to weaken political opponents. As General Prayuth Chan-ocha explained: “These people could support politicians in the future, and we cannot allow them to break the law and attack the people; we should solve the political crisis to make our country more safe…”.

Sixth, crackdowns tend to be lawless. We understand that the military dictatorship does whatever it wants, but there is some scrutiny. When officials with guns operate at night, there is no scrutiny.

Human rights advocates are right to be worried.





What happens after the king’s death?

27 02 2016

As far as we know, the king has not passed. Yet an op-ed at the Nikkei Asian Review, by Tim Johnston of the International Crisis Group reads very much like a “pre-obituary,” assessing what happens next.

It will surely anger the regime and the royalists in Bangkok, even if it does repeat some of their propaganda about the ailing monarch. It is an interpretation that includes much that is debatable. That said, it is useful to look forward at a time that will be politically fragile.

Johnson seems to have read some of the academic papers that have claimed that it is “middle class” that has driven opposition to what he calls the “traditionalist elite.”  We’d point out that several of these papers actually confuse low-income supporters of red shirts and allies with the middle class.

That aside, let’s continue with his story, where he observes that the “contradictions inherent in this modern, middle-class country ruled by a traditionalist elite are becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile.” He addresses this issue in the context of monarchy.

Johnston is wrong that “[t]he media were full of daily reports on his condition as the palace took the unprecedented step of inviting the public into its ceremonial hall to sign a book for well-wishers.” The signing of well wishes has been in place for years and the reports in the media were mainly limited to Royal Household Bureau announcements. Yet, he is right that “it is clear his [king’s] health remains in decline.”

Johnston is also wrong to declare that “Thailand has been a sheet anchor of stability in an otherwise turbulent region. The disputes were occasionally bloody, but tended to be tightly focused in Bangkok; although the shock waves often spread out across the country, the unrest had little material effect on ordinary people or investors outside the epicenter.” He’s wrong because it downgrades the impact of years of military dictatorship and American alliance and he’s wrong to ignore the long war in the south and the two decades of countrywide political struggle that revolved around communist insurgency.

He is right that the past 15 years of political conflict “has created the conditions for the sort of class warfare that could suck the nation and the economy even deeper into the mire.”

Johnston is wrong to declare, as if a palace propagandist, that “[f]or years, the king was the bridge that spanned the divisions that emerged. He has not personally intervened in recent disputes beyond giving formal approval to successive governments as they were thrown up by elections or coups, but that has not stopped a variety of players, mostly notably the military, from invoking his name to justify their policies.” This is errant nonsense. Has he not read The King Never Smiles? Has he not read any of the academic literature on the current monarch?

Armed king

He’s also wrong to confuse fact and propaganda about the king’s alleged work and service while ignoring his wealth and power and the impact of palace propaganda, usually taxpayer funded, over many decades.

He is right that “the king and the monarchy are not interchangeable: the man is much more powerful than the institution, and such power is not heritable.”

Johnston may be right that there “will be a vacuum at the heart of a deeply unstable social and political system.” But he can’t have it both ways and say the king isn’t a political player but then have him at the very center of the political system.King and junta

He declares that the “self-appointed defenders of the monarchy, … have an over-riding interest in ensuring that the succession is to their liking, if necessary through the use of force.”

That’s probably true, especially if the draft charter is any guide. Clearly, in that document, the military and the “traditionalist elite” are seeking to establish “independent agencies” to assume the political role played by the king in maintaining an exploitative and conservative social order.

He’s wrong that the junta is a self-appointed defender of the monarchy. These generals have been very close to the palace for many years. That loyalty is what got them to the top.

Johnston is on target when he observes that:

The opposition, cowed but not defeated by the draconian emergency powers the generals have granted themselves, knows it cannot take on the palace, the army and the bureaucracy while that triumvirate can invoke the moral and personal authority of King Bhumibol. Without his mystique, the elite’s forceful defense of a status quo that has repeatedly disenfranchised large swathes of the population risks appearing as naked self-interest.

On the middle class, Johnston notes that the current reign “has seen Thailand become a middle-income nation, with all the implied middle class aspirations for progress. The government’s attempts to force the country to retreat into a sclerotic theme-park version of Thai tradition looks quixotic and baffles those whom it does not anger.”

Yes and no. Much of the middle class is opposed to democratic reform and is supportive of “good people” defined in conservative terms that are as sclerotic as the junta’s view of “real” Thailand.

We also think he’s right to say that:

The king’s death will be followed by a substantial period of mourning, but political tensions will continue to seethe under the surface. How the generals and the bureaucracy handle the inevitable challenges to their power will determine whether Thailand’s post-Bhumibol social contract will be settled by confrontation or negotiation.

He may be right to speculate that the king’s death will trigger a “damaging identity crisis.” For the military,

which is among various institutions to have fetishized the concept of “Thainess,” such an identity crisis could easily look like an existential crisis, inviting an overreaction to criticism that risks ripping the fabric of Thai society in ways that would take years to repair.

We also think he’s right that “millions of ordinary Thais” have “outgrown the political and economic paternalism” of the past. Johnston’s view that “[f]or Thailand to continue to grow socially and economically, the elite needs to relinquish its hold on power and trust ordinary Thais to play an equal role in determining their future as a shared enterprise.”

The question is whether the elite can do that without being pushed and shoved off its trajectory. To be honest, we doubt it. The International Crisis Group should probably expect more crises in Thailand.